Northridge, CA – Game 2 of our college season coverage involving the defending national champion Akron Zips couldn’t have come at a better time. Caleb Porter’s team gave me a clear reminder that “it can be done at the collegiate level.” Playing the game with a true possession style and having a consistent team identity no matter the result over the course of one game. In the big picture, consistency is what pays off and if anyone has been consistent in the NCAA Division 1 college game it has been Akron.
The game ended in a 0-0 draw at the end of 110 minutes of soccer. However, seeing no goals did not disappoint me on the afternoon. After seeing not one 5 pass sequence out of USD in 90 minutes and only several out of UCI over the course of an entire game Akron quickly came out knocking the ball all over the field. Numerous 10 to 15 touch sequences in the first minutes of play. I was going to witness a college soccer game where someone played a la Barcelona.
Gk: #24 David Meves
Def: #17 DeAndre Yedlin, #4 Bryan Gallego, #3 Chad Barson, #8 David Mayer
Holding Mid: #27 Michael Balogun
Attacking Mids: #6 Wil Trapp, #15 Scott Caldwell
Forwards: #9 Aodhan Quinn, #10 Darren Mattocks, #21 Thomas Schmitt
Cal State Fullerton 4-2-3-1
Gk: #24 Trevor Whiddon
Def: #26 Jonathan Birt, #20 Roberto Vernaschi, #4 Bobby Reiss, #15 Fermin Villalba
Holding Mids: #5 Michael Denny, #2 Oscar Medina
Attacking Trio: #12 Kevin Venegas, #9 Oscar Aguero, #14 Mario Alvarez
Forward: #29 Jesse Escalante
The Zips are again ranked among the nation’s elite. They sit ranked number 2 below Louisville in most polls even after their national championship season. Why #2 and not at the top? Well, the national champs had 7 players picked in this years MLS draft, with 5 of them being selected in the first 8 picks. HISTORIC ACHIEVEMENT! Even then, they are predicted to make another big push for a national championship. I don’t see it happening this year, the pieces just aren’t there; but time will tell.
The Junior GK Meves has taken giant strides in the year since I’ve last seen him. He plays simple out of the back and NEVER launches the ball forward. That’s right, not once on a goal kick or in possession did he look to just lump it forward for a 50-50 ball. Most will frown on this, but the build up starts with him and his decision making and distribution looked solid. His shot stopping ability looked good. Lastly, I think he has drastically improved when tracking crosses in the air game and getting through crowds to get a fist to the ball or calmly gather it.
The back line made some rookie mistakes (3 of the 4 are freshmen) turning the ball over in dangerous areas under very little pressure. That is something they will need to work on in the big picture to make a deep post-season run. However, they are as organized as they come. The coach’s work can clearly be seen on both sides of the ball. When the Zips are in possession the spacing is a thing of beauty!!! That’s all it takes: proper spacing, communication, awareness and decision making to pass out of pressure … yes even at the collegiate level when you have robots pressuring you all over the field. Yedlin is a good presence getting forward from right back. Not Sarkodie just yet, but a good right back pro prospect. Both center backs play simple and are constantly instructing/barking out orders. That is priceless in a possession oriented game! They share what they see from the back (the entire field) to their mids and outside backs so they can make proper decisions on who to pass to and keep the ball moving fluidly. David Mayer is a weak link in the passing game as he holds the ball too long and forced the pass forward on several occasions.
The midfield trio needs some fine tuning but all 3 possess the key element in making sure the ball keeps moving and maintaining possession, AWARENESS. That’s right, they all know exactly where the pieces from both teams are on the map at all times. Constantly looking around and over their shoulder to know ahead of time where to play the next pass is crucial for any center mid. This along with the obvious technical quality needed to move the ball are the essential characteristics of a quality center mid. Balogun, ironically is a transfer from Cal State Fullerton (***another one that got away, see below). He owned the middle of the field on both sides of the ball. Defensively tackled and won every aerial battle when Fullerton would launch that ball out of the back. Offensively very soccer savy and simple. He’d play laterally and keep the ball for the Zips. The two attacking mids in the 4-3-3 were Trapp and Caldwell. Caldwell was a force in last years postseason championship run but had a difficult time with his touch on the day. Trapp has got plenty of talent but will also need some games under his belt to make the offense run more fluidly. I’m sure the trio were a bit shocked to all be man marked in the middle of the field by the Titans. A new experience for them that will help in their development in the long run.
The forward trio is also quite young and has left me a little worried in regards to their offensive capability in the Zips quest for a repeat. The wide players Quinn and Schmitt did some good things out wide in the first half. Quinn in particular looked good running at the Titans defense and combining well with right back Yedlin creating 2 v 1 opportunites on the wing. Mattocks did not look good on the evening. He looked lost playing in the center role of the 3 man attack. His diagonal runs and mobility were fantastic when the midfielders got loose and were running at the Titan defense. However, he was disconnected with play and uninterested when the ball went wide or was being knocked around the back 5 in possession. The lack of supply due to the midfield trio being man marked affected the attack on the evening so it’ll be interesting to see Mattocks and company on Saturday night against Northridge before giving a final opinion on their lack of bite in the offensive third. I’m hoping this part of the team can improve or the Zips will not be going the distance this year at the College Cup.
Cal State Fullerton breakdown:
For the first time ever I was impressed with the Cal State Fullerton men’s soccer team. Did they play good possession soccer? NOPE, not a lick of it! But they had a plan!!! They showed they had an identity even if it was for a day. They orquestrated a nearly perfect game plan to pull off a miraculous draw (on paper) against the defending national champion.
The Titans allowed Akron to play out of the back with minimal pressure, instead choosing to sit back and pressure the 3 Akron center mids by man marking them over the course of the game. The plan was to cut off the supply to the attacking trio by eliminating the creative midfielders from the match. In doing so, the Zips made numerous mistakes in the middle of the field with errant passes leading to nearly lethal counter attacks that the Titans did not capitalize on. Yes, CSUF could have easily picked up the W on the evening had they finished their chances on the counter.
The GK Trevor Whiddon made some top class saves on the night to keep the Zips off the scoreboard. However, his ball distribution is horrific at best. The guy has horrible technique kicking the ball. And again, just launches absolutely everything forward a la americana. Akron rarely whipped in any difficult crosses so they didn’t really test that aspect of his game. I’ve seen him over the years and have not been impressed by Whiddon but what do I know? The head coach is an ex pro keeper in Bob Ammann and he must know why this kid had been the starter for several years now.
The back row doesn’t have much finesse, nor are they tactically savvy. The patented launch everything forward and bypass the midfield applies here when they are on the ball. None of them makes proper decions on the ball but that lack of clarity or instruction should come from above. Bobby Reiss is the lone member of this crew that has got a clue with and without the ball. The other 3 are horrific in 1 v 1 defending and resorted to hacking down any attempted Akron advance. Birt particularly took no prisoners and chopped away at Quinn all night long with the referees assistance in not punishing it. The Titans back row will suffer on the year. For the night, they were protected by the excellent work of their midfield cutting off the supply to Akron forwards.
The holding mid duo of Denny and Medina worked tirelessly as I have said in man marking the Akron offensive mids off the field. Playing just in front of them, Aguero worked his socks off to deny Balogun any time on the ball and also dropped deep to track the offensive mids. Aguero is clearly the best player on this Titan roster, and has been for a couple of years now. He could be so much more in a different environment but makes due with the limited touches he does get as the creative player in the midfield.
The wide attacking players Venegas and Alvarez also covered lots of ground defensively and would look to quickly break on the counters when dispossessing the Zips. Venegas has always been a great dribbler! If only the boy could make good decisions on the ball. He always seems to put his head down with blinders on and dribble, dribble, dribble. That doesn’t get it done! Not on the evening and definately not at the highest level. Sad to see because the kid had potential. Alvarez is more interested in being a foul machine than actually playing soccer. But again, that comes from above. He got himself in dangerous positions but could not finish a play to pull out an upset! Ritchie Gonzalez showed he has some game on the night. Has good technique, would touch and look for wall passes, could dribble away from pressure. We will have to keep an eye on him.
The lone striker was on an island all evening. Escalante worked tirelessly early in the contest to the point I feared he was going to have a heart attack on the field and collapse. After 2o minutes, he was running in sand and pulling a trailer. He looked world class compared to his replacement Campbell. This is a football player converted into a soccer player just running around hacking away and going unpunished. It leaves me asking myself WHY? Who would recruit such a player? Why would it be done? It’s a wonder coaches make the excuse that “we don’t have the players” to play possession when I see these types infesting the field in college soccer.
I already provided the game plans in the team breakdowns.
One team intended to impose their possession game and treat the ball like gold. Good spacing, ball on the ground, getting it wide attempting to create 2 v 1’s going forward. The other one just came out to destroy! Man marking the center mids and hacking away on the evening. Fullerton commited 28 fouls (to Akrons 7) and earned all 5 yellow cards in the contest. The Titans looked to break on counter attacks and punish on set pieces and came close on numerous occasions.
It is remarkable how Caleb Porter’s team continues to have their team identity intact no matter how many players move on to the professional ranks season after season. They monopolize the ball and keep possession. NO EXCUSES!!! It’s not a lucky or cyclical thing when it comes to having the players or not. Some argue his recruting classes are top notch. Good for him! He gets out and works and brings players in that fit the mold. He knows what he wants in his team and brings in players to execute that. Believe me, HE DOES NOT HAVE THE BEST PLAYERS on this roster. Yet, they are still playing the same way and are consistent.
As for Fullerton, it is a “veteran group” this year with a lineup composed almost entirely of juniors and seniors. They have the potential and pieces to play a good brand of soccer and I’m hoping to see that during Big West play this season. You can tell there was some work on set piece offense and defense during the course of the game and that’s always a plus in modern day soccer when games are won and lost on set pieces. Again, kudos to the Titans for having a plan and executing it to perfection in attaining a huge result against the Zips.
I left Northridge last night with a smile on my face after seeing a 0-0 college soccer game. The reason? Caleb Porter’s team … the best show in American Soccer at any level. Looking forward to seeing them again on Saturday night under the lights in a packed house against host Cal State Northridge.
*** Another one that got away. Michael Balogun joins the club of top class talent that was once at Cal State Fullerton and transferred out. In recent years, true quality players Michael Farfan (UNC), Gabriel Farfan (both on Philidelphia Union now), and Jose “choco” Gomez (Creighton University) left the Titan program.